We all want to be happy.
And we think we know how to go about that, sort of.
But given the evidence in our lives, we’re really not sure we have a clue.
Because if we did (have a clue), wouldn’t we be happier?
That’s how the conversation used to go in my head – yours too?
Then my mental chatter would continue with…
…I just need to break up with the boyfriend, then things will get better and I’ll be happier.
…I just need to get a promotion and make more money, then I’ll be happier.
…I just need to move house/town/country to be near the sea/parents/besties and I’ll be much happier.
…I just need to take a holiday/get more friends/buy a puppy/take up swing dancing…
I think you get the idea – happiness will happen when something outside of me changes.
You know what I’m going to ask next… what happens if those things don’t change? Or they don’t change in the way you want them to? Are you doomed to be forever unhappy? Or at best, are you destined to live a half happy life?
Well, if you’re living according to the old rules on how to be happy, then your ability to live with a smile on your face will be very challenging.
So I think it’s time to explore those rules that set you up to fail at happiness, so that you can start to live by new ones that will actually support you to have a happy life.
Flawed Rule #1: Live ‘Right’ and Happiness Will be Your Reward
Just like me, you were probably brought up with the belief that if you achieved certain things in life, ticked certain boxes so to speak, you were in for a happy life. So you were taught that you earn your way to happiness. Here is what that might look like:
Do well at school
Be a nice person
Get a good job
Be a good worker
Earn more money
Meet the right guy or girl
Be a good partner
Buy a house
Go on holidays
Be good parents
Send kids to good schools
Be a good grandparent
But what happens when, perhaps for reasons outside your control, you aren’t able to tick these boxes? You aren’t able to live according to this blueprint of sorts?
Maybe you never meet Mr or Mrs Right. Perhaps you can’t have children. Maybe you lose your job. Perhaps you don’t make enough to afford a big house. You get divorced. You don’t buy the brand-name products. You can’t afford holidays every year.
Does that mean you are destined to be less happy? No, it doesn’t, which is why this view of the world is flawed!
How happy you are does not depend on how “good” you are, how much you “have”, how much you “earn”. It depends on how much good you can see in what already exists in your life.
No matter what your circumstances, there is always something to be grateful for. Choose to look for the good and what is great in your life, rather than focus on the bad or what you feel is lacking, and you will exponentially increase your ability to experience joy on a daily basis.
Turnaround tip: if you want to start training your brain to look for the good in your life rather than the bad, a simple thing to do is start a gratitude practice. At the end of everyday (or in the morning) spend 5 minutes listing all the things in your life you are grateful for and why.
Flawed Rule # 2: 100% Happiness is the Goal
We live in a society where perfectionism is rife. Which is not surprising given most of us live by flawed rule # 1 – if we can do better, be better, work harder etc, then we will receive the rewards we are due.
The impact of perfectionism when it comes to happiness is the belief that nothing less than 100% happiness will do. Which means the 50% (for argument’s sake) of the time you’re not happy, you’re trying to pretend you are. Now that is damn hard work (speaking from experience).
It also means that when you’re not happy, you’re possibly giving yourself a hard time for it (because you’re obviously not doing enough, being enough or just enough in general, or else you would be happier, right?)
Here’s the thing – being 100% happy is impossible (I know, controversial!). Why? Because you are a human being in a relative world. And as a human we experience these things called emotions, which come in a whole spectrum from not so nice feelings (anger, frustration, disappointment, sadness) to blissful ones (joy, love, happiness, elation). And I’m yet to meet anyone who lives at just one end of the spectrum because our relative world comes with – you guessed it – constant ups and downs.
Now, can we even out the rollercoaster of our emotional life and live more on one end of the spectrum than the other? Absolutely. But creating that shift is a process, which you can start with a creating a new habit around daily gratitude (see turnaround tip #1 above).
Turnaround tip #2: first, let yourself off the hook – rather than going for 100% happiness, I encourage my clients to adopt the motto of “More joy more of the time”, so that they’re aiming for day on day growth rather than an end game. Second, when you are experiencing emotions from the left side of the spectrum, allow yourself to feel them, rather than ignore them, push them down or pretend they are not there, because this is actually counterproductive to your goal of wanting to experience more happiness. If this is new to you, a great first step is to simply acknowledge your feelings by saying something like “I am feeling sad/angry/frustrated/mad”.
Flawed Rule # 3: Other People Make Me Happy
So much of our language points to the fact that we look to other people to make us happy.
Particularly in romantic relationships where you hear people say things like “You complete me”, “You make me whole”, “You make me happy”.
There’s nothing wrong with people enhancing our happiness, but relying on someone else’s presence, words or deeds to make you feel happy is like picking your happiness out of a lucky dip; some days you’ll hit the jackpot, but most often than not you miss out.
This way of looking at the world assumes that someone else has the power to give you happiness, or not. But the truth is YOU are in control of your own happiness, no one else.
That may feel a little scary, as it can feel like quite the responsibility to be in charge of your own happiness. But it’s also a gift, as now you can start to create the happiness you want to feel, rather than hope it blows to you on the wind today.
- If your partner doesn’t put out the trash, or say I love you as often as you like, you can still choose to be happy and feel joyful.
- If your child doesn’t behave in the way you want them to and goes off the rails, you can still find things to be joyful and happy about during your day.
- If your friend doesn’t return your calls or seems too busy to see you, you can still choose to be grateful for having that friend in your life, even if you can’t get together right now.
Positive feelings and negative feelings can co-exist and you can move from one to the other quite fluidly if you allow yourself to and give yourself permission to feel good even if things around you don’t “look” good.
Turnaround tip #3: when people behave in a way we don’t like, we often make it mean something about us, which has a negative impact on our happiness. So perhaps try to play the Reframe Game, start to come up with all the reasons why the person could have behaved that way that had NOTHING to do with you. When you get good at this game, it brings tremendous peace because you’re not even entertaining those negative emotions that occur when we make the actions of others mean something about us.
A lot of what we’ve culturally been taught to believe about happiness is setting us up to fail at it. But, the good news is, we can actually learn new things and start practising new habits that set us up to succeed at this thing called happiness!
Till next time, be joyful.
PS. If you’re interested in finding out more about how to learn the tools to live a happy life, check out my six-week group online programme called Joy School, which starts next week June 1. Click here to read more about it. (NB. The early bird price ends midnight tomorrow, Saturday May 28, so I wouldn’t dally if you’re interested in checking it out.)
PPS. This was originally a guest post I wrote for LearnShedLive, but they were happy for me to share it with my wonderful community too.